Last updated: August 10, 2021

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Water and barley - A single malt whisky consists of only two basic ingredients and yet its production is probably one of the most complex drinks in the world.

The Scottish national drink goes through a special processing procedure and thus receives its smoky note, which is extremely popular among whisky lovers. It is not without reason that whisky is called "the water of life". Its different flavours and aromas are a real treat for both whisky beginners and whisky connoisseurs.

Single malt whisky is also becoming increasingly popular in Germany. We have compared various products with each other and listed the best tips and tricks for you on what to look out for when buying so that you can find your way around the world of single malt whiskies better.




Summary

  • The basic ingredients of a single malt whisky are water and barley. It is matured in wooden casks for different lengths of time using a special processing method, which creates the unique flavours.
  • The most important aroma categories of the different models are the mild & fruity single malt, the sherry-accentuated single malt and the maritime, smoky single malt.
  • Whisky is not equal to whiskey - Only when it is spelled "whisky" does the drink usually also come from Scotland. The Irish write whiskey.

The Best Single Malt Whisky: Our Picks

In this section we have listed our favourites for you to make your purchase decision a little easier. You can then order the products right here. We have selected something for every taste and deliberately left out single malt whiskies from discounters.

Buying and evaluation criteria for single malt whisky

To help you find your way around the world of single malt whiskies, we have summarised the most important criteria you should look out for when buying. These are as follows:

In the following section, we will explain in more detail what the above-mentioned purchase criteria are. In this way, you are guaranteed to find the right single malt whisky for you.

Taste

Probably the most important purchase criterion is the taste, because the noble drop should ultimately taste good to you. Single malt whiskies can be divided into three basic flavours: mild and fruity, fruity and sherried, and maritime or smoky.

As a whisky beginner, it is advisable not to select bottlings with overly strong flavours. It also makes sense for beginners to start with whiskies from a particular region and then try out the different distilleries.

Alcohol content

Alcohol content is also a flavour factor that should not be underestimated. Single malt whiskies must have a minimum alcohol content of 40 %, this is laid down by law. If you go for a variant with over 46%, you will find that the taste of the whisky is more complex and distinctive.

Single malt whiskies that have a lower bottling strength are more suitable for whisky beginners. Cask strength whiskies with an alcohol content of over 50% are becoming increasingly popular and have a fantastic taste, but are far too strong for beginners.

Region of Origin

The origin of the whisky is also reflected in its taste. The different raw materials and storage methods used to produce whisky in the various whisky nations give the whisky distinctive flavours.

The largest whisky nations include Scotland, Ireland, America, Canada and Japan.

Scotland is probably the best-known whisky country. Most single malts are produced there. Only whiskies from Scotland may adorn their bottle label with the designation "Scotch". Incidentally, single malt means that the whisky comes from only one distillery, but not from a single cask.

Cask maturation

The type and duration of cask maturation also has a considerable influence on the flavour and aroma variety of the whisky. A single malt is usually matured in oak casks, which give it its soft and pleasant aromas and flavours.

The contents of a bottle of single malt whisky can be traced back to a single distillery, but it represents quite different types of whisky from different vintages.

If a year, i.e. the storage period of the whisky, is indicated on the bottle label, then this stands for the youngest whisky used. For example, if a label says "10 years", then this whisky may well contain old whisky from 12, 16 or 25 years ago.

Guide: Frequently asked questions about single malt whisky answered in detail

In the following, we have summarised the most frequently asked questions and answers on the subject of single malt whisky for you, so that you are well informed when you enter the world of whiskies.

What is a single malt whisky?

A single malt whisky is a whisky that is made from pure barley malt and comes exclusively from a single distillery. However, this does not apply to the wooden cask in which the Scottish national drink is brewed. It is not uncommon for a distillery to blend several whiskies into a single malt whisky.

Single Malt Whisky

Barley and water have been the basic ingredients of single malt whiskies for over 500 years. (Image source: Anthony Torres/ Unsplash)

Due to its special production and long maturation period, single malt has a distinctive taste and develops excellent aromas. It is therefore considered to be of particularly high quality and is highly sought after by whisky lovers.

What types/varieties of single malt whiskies are there?

Depending on the destination where the distillery is located, the single malt whisky is given a different flavour. For example, the single malts from the Highlands have a spicy-floral aroma, those from the Scottish island of Islay are martime-smoky and the Speyside whiskies taste soft and fruity.

Single malt whiskeys from Ireland differ from the Scottish variants both in their spelling and in their production. Irish whiskeys are usually somewhat milder and maltier.

How much does a single malt whisky cost?

The price is determined by the quality, fame of the distillery and the age of a single malt whisky. In our comparison, we have deliberately avoided whiskies from discount stores. Even in the lower price ranges, there are single malts with excellent taste experiences.

Price range Available products
Low-priced 30 - 50 € Many excellent single malts for beginners, either without age statement or between 10 and 15 years, also for collectors
Medium-priced 50 - 75 € Many excellent single malts, distinguished by their long maturation in oak casks, between 15 and 18 years maturation time
High-priced 75 - 100 € Many older single malts from well-known distilleries, matured between 18 - 21 years
Whiskies for connoisseurs and gourmets from 100 € Old and rare single malts, matured for between 21 and 25 years, often limited and high-quality collector's items

As you can see, very good to excellent single malt whiskies can already be found in the lower price segments, which are suitable for beginners, advanced connoisseurs as well as for hobby collectors.

How is a single malt whisky made?

Once again, the way single malt whiskies are made varies somewhat depending on the region of origin. Nevertheless, pretty much all distilleries follow the same basic principle. A single malt whisky consists of a few ingredients: Water, barley and yeast.

For single malt production, only malted barley is used, which is then dried either over hot air or peat fire. This is followed by the distillation of the spirit, which is finally filled into oak barrels for maturation.

The length of time the cask is matured, the size and previous contents of the cask (such as bourbon, sherry or port), the freshness of the cask (firstfill or refill) and any finishes in other types of casks have an enormous influence on the aromas and taste of the whisky.

What does Scotch Whisky mean and what is the difference?

The name "Scotch Whisky" already indicates the origin: A bottle label of a whisky may only bear the term "Scotch" if it really comes exclusively from a Scottish distillery.

Conclusion

As you have probably noticed, not every single malt whisky is the same. Especially not in its taste. With its different aromas and flavours, single malt makes the hearts of all whisky lovers beat faster, all over the world. Its drinking style is as varied as its taste. Pure, with water or on ice - a single malt whisky is always a true pleasure.

Whether fruity-sweet, mild, maritime or peaty-smoky, whether younger or older, inexpensive or high-priced single malt whiskies - due to the diverse taste experiences that single malt offers, it is difficult to judge which is the best. So enter the world of single malt whiskies with our tips and tricks and find your own whisky preferences.

Image source: Craig McKay/ Unsplash

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